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UK Students Protest: Report 01.

I arrived at the tail end of the ‘peaceful’ part of the demo outside parliament and made my way pretty much immediately down to Millbank. When I got to the Tory HQ, the people who had broken in and occupied had been removed from the building and a very lively protest was happening outside. I don’t know who the occupiers were (does anybody have news yet?) but obviously the automatic, reflex response is that they must be “professionalagitators” (last night’s Evening Standard) or “a few rogue individuals” (NUS) – anarchists, essentially. Whether or not this turns out to be true, I think it is crucial that we disallow this worn-out rhetoric and transparent damage management strategy to pass uncritically and should resist it in our own thought processes. As people have already commented, whether or not the actual people who broke in were anarchists, they were supported veryenergetically for several hours by a large crowd of students and so it is impossible to maintain the “highjack” interpretation.

The police had evacuated the whole area, which in addition to the HQ consisted of various coffee shops and a pizza express. It looked like two businessmen, who had obviously been having a relaxing business lunch, had got stuck unexpectedly in there in the midst of all the action. They looked a bit awkward as they sipped their red wine and eat their Florentine’s!

The level of energy was quite relentless. They were letting off flares and burning their banners. A big bonfire had been constructed, on which it seemed they had burnt effigies. “build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the Tories on the top, put the Lib Dems in the middle and burn the fucking lot” was being chanted. Stuff was consistently being thrown at the police line at the front entrance to the building. There were definitely a lot of sticks and small sandbags. I couldn’t quite make out what else was being used.

I got up right to the front to take a closer look at the damage. The whole glass front of the huge building had been completely smashed in, with no glass remaining. The whole inside of the ground floor was covered in graffiti, mostly stuff like: “Tory Scum!”, “Clegg, you fucking liar” and loads of doodle’s of the anarchy symbol and huge ejaculating penis’s. The floor was just a mass of demolished debris, glass, banners and broken sticks mainly, and the riot police were lined up along the front trying to act calm and composed as they guarded the now totally exposed building.

My experience is that it was quite violent, or aggressive, at least (if we want to insist on the distinction). I witnessed a team of riot police who were guarding another entrance – a little alleyway – endure a relentless 15 or so minute attack by a bunch of only around 10-15 protestors, who were relentlessly hurling whatever they could find at them. They didn’t seem like “professionals” or “rogues”. The protestors were a mere few feet away from the police and people watching were gasping in surprise at how intense this moment seemed.

I strongly believe that the compulsion to immediately jump behind a lazy morality that valorises the non-violent is problematic. To me it goes together logically with the submission to the idea of the bifurcation between ‘the few loony opportunists who spoil things for the rest of us’ narrative. The fact is that this was the most lively, passionate and radical feeling protest I have been to (the Millbank part of it anyhow). People, a very wide range and array of people, are furious. Whether or not the actual moment of occupation was the job of anarchists, a dichotomy was not at all easy to make. There is something very significant trying to be expressed here, in the very blurring of these distinctions between “professional agitator” and the generally agitated, and I think that to refuse to recognise that and to recycle old moral dichotomies to respond to it is not permitting the distinct experience to speak.

Amidst the fighting however, there was also a lot of fun being had and spirits were very high. There were drummers and singing and dancing and it kind of felt almost like a street party at moments (until another scuffle would break out or the police would intensify the kettle). Some protestors had stolen loads of office furniture from the building, which was a nice touch. People were lounging on luxury leather sofas and taking it in turns to twirl each other around on big leather office chairs, etc.

Eventually the police began to pursue the kettle to its logical end point, after ordering in a load of reinforcements.

It was incredibly exciting to see something that many of us have been involved in from a very earlier stage and on a very localised level raise itself to develop on such a grand scale. Many of the chants, banners and slogans were the same as the ones that emerged out of individual university struggles last year.

One of the most prominent characteristics of the Millbank protest was how young everybody seemed (A-level students and 1st 2nd year undergraduates). It was really the younger ones who were leading the whole thing, at least the more energetic and radical thrust at Millbank anyhow. I see it as a real possibility that these teenagers find themselves in an economic and social context, which genuinely demands a higher and more engaged level of political awareness and activism. A number of interesting movements could emerge from this.

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